Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, on the eve of winning his party’s presidential nomination, scored an important tactical victory Tuesday as Democratic National Convention delegates rejected by better than 2 to 1 a Jesse Jackson proposal to seek higher taxes on corporations and high-income individuals.
The convention, moving toward final adoption of a platform finely tailored to avoid handing ammunition to Dukakis’ Republican opponent in the fall campaign, also rejected by a similar margin a Jackson-sponsored minority plank calling for a commitment against first use of nuclear weapons.
But it was the rejection of the tax proposal--by a vote of 2,499 to 1,091.5--that Dukakis strategists considered a crucial, although predictable, victory for Dukakis. Going through the exercise of the vote on the convention floor Tuesday nightgave Dukakis an opportunity to reinforce the image he has been trying to project--as a candidate who, far from wishing to raise taxes himself, will fight against those who do.
“Let’s not tie (Dukakis’) hands with a tax increase,” declared Denver Mayor Federico Pena, arguing against the Jackson-sponsored minority plank. “I don’t like throwing softballs to an opponent to knock out of the park, and a tax-hike pitch is a grand slam for George Bush"--the presumed GOP nominee.
Dukakis and Jackson had worked out an agreement on how to deal with their differences on the platform before it was taken up at the convention. And as part of their agreement, the Jackson forces said they would not press their proposal for a five-year freeze on Pentagon spending.
Politically, the second day of the convention clearly belonged to Dukakis, who tonight will receive the party’s nomination. But symbolically and emotionally, it belonged to Jackson, the fiery civil rights leader who came in second in the Democratic race and has agreed to work with Dukakis to defeat the Republicans in November but has not yet formally conceded the nomination to the Massachusetts governor.
In a speech prepared for delivery at the end of Tuesday night’s session, Jackson issued a passionate call for “bold leadership,” declaring: “That’s what we need, new direction, sound ideas--and America must never surrender to be bigger and better.”
Kennedy Attacks Bush
In another ringing speech, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts accused Bush of “burying his head in his hands and hiding from the record of the Reagan-Bush mistakes.”
Citing a series of episodes in the Reagan Administration and ending each with a rhetorical, “Where was George?” Kennedy began by declaring:
“The vice president says he never saw--or can’t recall--or never heard--as the Administration secretly plotted to sell arms to Iran. So when that monumental mistake was made, I think it is fair to ask--where was George?”
Meanwhile, the agreement reached Monday by Dukakis and Jackson to integrate their campaign forces and provide key positions for Jackson and some of his aides for the fall campaign has been widely hailed by Democrats as a major unifying move crucial to the party’s chances in November.
Almost immediately, though, the Dukakis staff was confronted with the kind of problems likely to crop up as they try to bring Jackson supporters into their campaign structure, and it came not in the conservative South but in racially charged New York.
On Monday, Dukakis aides told reporters that Jackson’s former New York campaign manager, Hulbert James, would be co-chairman of their statewide effort along with Al Gordon, an aide to New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, whose appointment to head the campaign had been announced some weeks ago. Cuomo, according to a well-placed member of Dukakis’ staff, reacted angrily, feeling that the authority of his associate had been compromised.
The agreement negotiated with Jackson on Monday, it was learned, also calls for Dukakis to increase the role of Jackson’s supporters in the party by adding a new co-chairperson of the Democratic National Committee to oversee voter registration, increase the committee’s at-large members from 25 to 33, expand each standing committee by two members and the party’s executive committee by three.
Under the agreement, the new people will be chosen by Jackson.
Avoids Floor Fights
Still, things could hardly have gone better for Dukakis on Tuesday. He got the platform he wanted and avoided any divisive floor fights with Jackson delegates. Although the Jackson forces claimed some success in the struggle over the platform, Dukakis gave them little of consequence.
Jackson’s supporters had fought for a month for a platform plank that would call for doubling federal spending on education, for example, but they settled for language that merely called for “significantly increasing” federal funding.
A third minority plank, endorsing self-determination for the Palestinians, could have led to a divisive fight, but it was brought to the floor for debate under terms of a Dukakis-Jackson agreement that called for the plank to be withdrawn before a vote.
An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll of delegates Monday indicated that, overall, delegates opposed the plank by 55% to 35%, with 10% undecided. Dukakis delegates opposed it, 73% to 13%, and Jackson delegates favored it, 81% to 9%.
The debate on the plank touched off strong emotions, with James Zogby, a Jackson adviser and executive director of the Arab-American Institute, proclaiming victory in the platform maneuvering and declaring: “The deadly silence that submerged the issue of Palestinian rights has been shattered.”
Rep. Charles E. Schumer of New York, clearly agitated by Zogby’s claim, said his arguments were “clever but fundamentally duplicitous, when he says that this is a victory for his platform.”
“Let me say, ladies and gentlemen,” Schumer continued, “that we as legislators know one rule and we know it well. When you’ve got the votes, you call for a vote. When you don’t have the votes, you withdraw your plank. The minority plank does not have the votes, and we all know that very well. That’s why we’re not not voting on it today.”
Schumer’s comment was met by applause mixed with sustained boos.
‘Kick in the Teeth’
Sen. Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii called the Jackson Middle East plank “a vicious kick in the teeth of America’s interests in that part of the world.” He was booed by Roxie Tossie and John Demello of Hawaii, who stood waving green signs saying “Democrats for Middle East Peace.”
“We’re booing Inouye and cheering the Palestinians,” Demello told a reporter. “The Israelis arm the Contras, they arm the Iraqis and they have massacred untold Palestinians.”
The Democratic platform was carefully crafted by a committee whose goal was to create a document sufficiently vague that it would not provide ammunition for Bush and other Republican candidates in the fall campaign.
The 1984 platform adopted at the San Francisco convention was 10 times as long and much more specific, and it was cited repeatedly in derogatory terms by Republican candidates, who derided “the San Francisco Democrats.”
While the 1988 platform keeps faith with the spirit of the party’s traditional principles, it is considerably longer on ends than on means. It contains no numbers or specifics on how its goals would be achieved or funded.
The strategy for winning approval of a platform so broad and deliberately vague that it was certain to be opposed by several party constituencies was implemented months ago. Party Chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr. led a lobbying effort that largely succeeded in persuading various interest groups, including women, labor and minorities, not to wage a big fight against the document.
And Dukakis strategists, including operations director Jack Corrigan, Rep. Robert T. Matsui of Sacramento and former Rep. Michael Barnes of Maryland, controlled the platform from the time the drafting committee first met in Mackinac Island, Mich., to the full committee’s meeting in Denver to the final vote on the floor Tuesday night.
The document contains a paragraph on innovative and pragmatic government that closely tracks the kind of ideal government Dukakis has advocated in his campaign speeches:
“We believe in competent, pragmatic governments, accountable to the people, led by men and women dedicated not to self-interest but to service, motivated not by ideology but by American ideals, governing not in a spirit of power and privilege but with a sense of compassion and community. For many years, in state and local capitals across this nation, Democrats have been successfully solving our problems and helping people with exactly this kind of innovative government.”
The platform embraces the party’s long-held belief that government has a responsibility to assure economic justice for all, and it endorses a long-cherished Democratic goal of “full employment.” However, it does not define the term and its endorsement is contained in a long sentence that advocates numerous other traditional liberal programs:
” . . . A first-rate full employment economy, with an indexed minimum wage that can help lift and keep families out of poverty, with training and employment programs--including child care and health care--that can help people move from welfare to work, with portable pensions and an adequate Social Security system, safeguarded against emasculation and privatization, that help assure a comfortable and fulfilling old age, with opportunities for voluntary national public service . . . that can enrich our communities, and with all workers assured the protection of an effective law that guarantees their rights to organize, join the union of their choice, and bargain collectively with their employer, from anti-union tactics.”
The platform condemns “voodoo economics"--the term Bush used in describing Ronald Reagan’s economic program during their battle for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination. And it advocates “pay equity for working women,” although it avoids the more controversial concept of “comparable worth.”
National Drug ‘Czar’
The platform also proposes creation of a national drug “czar” to coordinate the nation’s anti-drug effort.
The civil rights plank supports passage of the equal rights amendment and the right of a poor woman to have an abortion, even though the word is never used in the document. Rather, it states: “The fundamental right of reproductive choice should be guaranteed regardless of ability to pay.”
On a subject of increasingly widespread public concern, the platform declares: “We believe that all Americans should enjoy access to affordable, comprehensive health services for both the physically and mentally ill, from prenatal care for pregnant women at risk to more adequate care for our Vietnam and other veterans. . . . “
Contributing to this story were staff writers Robert Shogan, Henry Weinstein, Thomas B. Rosenstiel and David Lauter.